Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ So much going on

It’s that thoroughly wet kind of day here in Wales (where I currently am). So it feels like an excellent time to return to the subject of story-spreading by  introducing Fiona Collins. Fiona is one of the most active story-spreaders I know and, as it happens, she has for some years lived in North Wales.

Years ago, Fiona was a teacher at the Primary School in Lambeth in London which my foster-sons used to attend. After getting into storytelling, she moved to North Wales where today she leads a very busy life as a professional storyteller.  As the piece she has kindly written for this blog shows, she is also a story-spreader supreme. Not all storytellers are! Some focus entirely on their own performing. Others, like Fiona, also focus on helping others become storytellers too.

Fiona says that it was back in the 1980s that she first became entranced by traditional storytelling. At that time also, she became a regular attender at the Drill Hall storytelling workshops I used to run in London with my friend and colleague, Karen Tovell. And it was in those workshops, Fiona says, that she learned ‘how to go deeper into stories’. The going deeper eventually became one of the things that gave her the confidence to become a full-time storyteller.

In 2001, Fiona moved back to North Wales where she had lived for a couple of years in her early twenties. What drew her back, she says, was ‘that very Welsh feeling called hiraeth – which is an untranslatable word for something resembling nostalgia.’ And it was in North Wales that she began to develop her work as a storyteller. This is how she tells the story:

‘When I got here, I soon heard of Literature Wales’ Writing Squads, supporting young writers of primary and secondary school age.  I wanted to create something similar for young storytellers.  For ages, I tried to find an organisation to help me develop this idea.  Finally I found one: Venue Cymru, the arts and events centre in Llandudno.  In 2012 we started Story Circle/Cylch Stori there.  I didn’t want it to call it ‘story squad’, as it sounded a bit militaristic.  I led it until 2016, and then passed it on to younger leaders.  It is still flourishing, though they haven’t met since March, because of the Lockdown.   I am now the proud Patron of Cylch Stori/Story Circle.

‘Just two of the people I have worked with took part in an online Storytelling Festival day on Saturday, 4 July.  I am very proud that I know them both. Ffion Phillips (below) is only 14 but has been part of Cylch Stori and is a really wonderful young storyteller.  Siân Miriam (further below) is from Anglesey and is the current holder of Gwobr Esyllt Prize to support a young Welsh woman storyteller to develop her skills by creating a new piece of work.

Ffion Phillips

‘Cylch Stori /Story Circle meets monthly on Saturday afternoons.  It is for 7 to 11 year olds, and is free to join, though we keep the group size to a maximum of 12, so it stays small and friendly.  It has a leader and a co-leader.  The children hear and retell traditional tales in Welsh and English, and explore them in drama, art, music, dance … a bit like Mary and Karen’s workshops, really!  The aim is to enjoy and play with stories, work together, meet new ideas and have lots of fun.  Venue Cymru is enormously supportive, and the Cylch /Circle, as part of their Young Creatives Scheme, is funded by Arts Council Wales.

‘For me, the most exciting thing is that it works on two levels: the children have a lovely time, and the co-leaders, whose ages have ranged between 16 and 26, gain valuable (and paid!) experience, which will always stand them in good stead.  More than one has gone on to work professionally in storytelling.  Cylch Stori /Story Circle exists to spread stories among young people, developing the next generations of storytellers.’

Fiona is a story-spreader in another way too, namely through a project called Chwedl whose name means ‘story’ in Welsh. The seed for the project was planted in 2018 by three friends of Welsh storyteller Esyllt Harker who had died in May 2014. Following her death, a bursary was created in her memory by the Welsh Storytelling Festival, Beyond the Border and it was through having to find a way to pass on the bursary that Fiona together with fellow storytellers Cath Little and Angharad Wynne dreamed up Chwedl. The initial idea was  simply to raise funds for the bursary, which was to be awarded to an emerging woman storyteller, living or working in Wales. But Chwedl quickly became a network of women storytellers in and from Wales. The first of its two aims was to keep fundraising for, and awarding, the Gwobr Esyllt Prize. The second was to develop as a support network for women storytellers in and from Wales. By now, Fiona reports, it has 84 women on its mailing list and it is active in sending out information about its members’ activities, developing its own website and organising informal meetings to share stories and ideas.

Sian Miriam

It has also organised workshops and performances by women whom its members admire and in November 2001 it held its first AGM. The best thing of all, says Fiona, is meeting to share stories and ideas.  In April 2018 Chwedl organised a weekend workshop for 14 women, led by Sally Pomme Clayton, and it has also held a Chwedl weekend on Anglesey, which included a performance evening as well as a workshop day of skill sharing.  ‘We plan to run more workshops led by women we respect and admire,’ says Fiona, ‘even if they have to be ‘socially distanced.’  During Lockdown they have started meeting over zoom, which means that women from all over Wales can talk together without having to travel. The hope is that Chwedl, which originally grew out of a conversation between three friends, will continue to grow and spread stories in both languages of Wales.’

What a lot of story-spreading – and in such a variety of ways. And for me as a Welsh woman born and bred, it is wonderful to know how much of it has happened here in Wales where stories and storytelling has traditionally been so strong a part of our culture.

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